E-cigAlex Massie’s right: attempts to clamp down on electronic cigarettes are entirely misguided, and will, if successful, lead directly to more preventable deaths. The opponents are doing Big Tobacco’s work for them – there has never been a bigger threat to tobacco consumption than e-cigarettes, vaporisers, call them what you will, at least in the West. If you’ve got the time, here’s an extraordinarily long list of scientists and others quoted on the subject. To give one example from there, here’s Professor John Britton, chair of the Royal College of Physicians’ Tobacco Advisory Group:

If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started smoking e-cigarettes we would save 5 million deaths in people who are alive today. It’s a massive potential public health prize.

So why not regulate them? Here, from the same source, are ten good reasons. And perhaps this is the clearest summary, from Professor Jean-François Etter, head of the tobacco group at the University of Geneva’s Institute of Social and Preventative Medicine:

It would be a mistake I think to regulate these products as medications, and if they were regulated as medications this would limit access to the product too much and cause many deaths. … Astonishingly, the most vocal opponents of e-cigarettes are people from the public health community, who perhaps don’t understand what is at stake, and just don’t like the product because it looks too much like a cigarette.

And now the foolishness of the “treat them as medicines” lobby has arrived at Holyrood via this motion from Stewart Maxwell MSP. He led the campaign for a ban on smoking in public places from 2003, so seeing him trying to restrict something which reduces the incidence of smoking is like watching a road safety campaigner suddenly argue against speed limits, seatbelts or airbags. His motion says the “potential health risks are unknown”, and advises people to stick to the patches and gum which have left us with almost a quarter of Scots still smoking.

Sure. We don’t know everything yet, but research is coming in, and we can also be absolutely certain about the alternative: continuing to smoke tobacco. To quote ASH, this country’s most implacable opponents of smoking (who do support regulation but also oppose a ban on the use of e-cigs in public places):

Certainly, in the absence of thorough clinical evaluation and long term population level surveillance absolute safety of such products cannot be guaranteed. By comparison, the harm from tobacco smoking – the leading cause of preventable death in the UK – is well established.

One study concludes that e-cigarettes have a low toxicity profile, are well tolerated, and are associated with only mild adverse effects.

I don’t even think they should be unavailable to children, despite the concerns about young people starting straight on e-cigs. Currently 13% of Scottish 15 year-olds smoke cigarettes: I’d rather they weren’t inhaling any tar, any particulates, any carbon monoxide, or any of the remainder of the toxic cocktail a cigarette generates. Maxwell’s motion calls for a ban on promotion to non-smokers, and that’s probably as far as I would go with him, although I’m not quite sure what that looks like.

With proper support, this could be the last generation that sees mass smoking of tobacco in this country. With a decent alternative for those already hooked, you could even make the case for pre-announcing a 2020 ban on smoking altogether (not that the Massie family would be likely to support that). One more quote, this time from Robert West, Professor of health psychology and director of tobacco studies at UCL’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health:

We could see the end of tobacco use in the UK within five to ten years if e-cigarettes are allowed to flourish. Why would smokers continue to kill themselves if they could use e-cigarettes? Smoking tobacco is so last century.

The prize is that big. I see my friends switching from something that will very likely kill them to something which almost certainly won’t. And I wish Stewart Maxwell was on board with that.